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Below are study questions on Acts 1 broken into 5 different themes.
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This continues my series on biblical leadership. To read more in this series, start with my most recent post, Do You Lead "From Above" or "From Below"?
[Note: In this post, I use the terms "elder" and "elder-candidate" interchangeably.]
Elders, and elder-candidates, must be spiritual leaders in their own households. As Paul writes to Timothy, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family [household], how can he take care of God's church?" (1 Timothy 3:5, TNIV).
Looking at the instructions about elders in 1 Timothy 3:2-5 in terms of "household responsibilities" provides a fresh perspective on how to understand these instructions. In the ancient world, the responsibility to lead and direct a household fell to the males, and, in particular, the father. Households included both males and females, children and slaves. The father was over all and responsible for moral instruction and making sure that members of his household did not bring disgrace upon the household. Fathers would rule their households by authority and discipline.
Paul gives attention to this cultural norm but also subverts it in his instructions to Timothy. He begins by stating that an overseer is to be "above reproach" (1 Tim. 3:2). This is the leading thought for the entirety of the instructions about elders; the remainder of the teaching (1 Tim. 3:2-7) describes what it means or how it looks to be "above reproach."
For good reason, the first block of teaching (there are three blocks, each detailing an area of character) is devoted to household relationships. Being above reproach means, first of all, leading one's family well.
But how is the elder to be above reproach in his family? He is to be "faithful to his wife" (1 Tim. 3:2). Here, the original language refers to a "one-woman-man." To translate it as "husband of one wife" is to interpret the phrase, and a better understanding of the phrase is seen in the TNIV, "faithful to his wife."
Thus, the elder is above reproach in his family by being faithful to his wife. Theologically, this carries more freight than the legal question about marital status. It recalls the Old Testament teaching about faithfulness to God and the covenant, seen, in particular in the prophetic book of Hosea, where faithfulness in marriage is a sign of faithfulness to the covenant.
But faithfulness in marriage contains a lot more than sexual faithfulness. This is clear by Paul's emphasis to Timothy that elders are to be "temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money" (1 Tim. 3:2-3). The key is to see these things evolving out of the elder's responsibilities to his household.
These instructions tie together Paul's teaching about faithfulness to one's wife within the household context by linking instructions about how the elder is to treat his wife with instructions about his children. The emphasis on "managing" the household in 3:4 is intentional. The word sometimes translated as "family" in 3:4-5 should be translated as "household." How an elder deals with the entirety of his household responsibilities is what's important. How he loves, leads, cares for, manages, and handles anything that comes up in the household, from relationships to business arrangements, pertains to his leadership of the church.
The principle is this: the household is a microcosm of the church, which is the macrocosm. Thus, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own [household], how can he take care of God's church?" (3:5) The character traits Paul lists in 3:2-5 pertain to oversight of the household.
We do not fully understand this passage when we appoint elders based on whether a man has been divorced and whether he has "good" kids. This passage teaches us to probe deeper, that we ought to get into an elder-candidate's life, to see how he really is around his family. We need to see how he loves his wife, how he treats his children, how he handles his finances, how he acts towards friends of his children, how he contributes to household chores and business. It's in these concrete and visible things that we see the true (spiritual) leadership of an elder.
In this funeral sermon, based on 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10, I reflect on what it means to be home with God.
Read the sermon below, click on the file link to stream the audio, or right-click the link and select "Save As" to download it.
"Going Home" ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
We know we are not at “home,” so we live in hope of “home” with confidence and faith that please the Lord.
We know we are not at "home" (2 Cor. 5:1-5)
In spring, trees bloom and flowers emerge from the ground. The growth is beautiful. Color returns to our yards and warms our moods after a long, gray, cold Michigan winter. As much as we enjoy springtime and the changes it brings, we know that these changes are not permanent. We know that they are part of a cycle, a cycle that turns season after season, year after year. Spring moves to summer, where long, hot summer days can result in withered flowers and scorched, dry grass. Summer gives way to autumn. In autumn, flowers die, trees lose their luster, leaves fall off, and the beauty that was seen in spring gives way to a barrenness that reaches from late autumn, all across winter, into early spring. The beauty of spring is temporary; it is a phase that is beautiful and wonderful while it lasts, but as they say of all good things, it must come to an end.
For Christians, life is a lot like these seasonal transitions. The beauty and wonder of our earthly life and in our early years gives way to fading glory as we grow older and experience the effects of aging. Yet, something calls to us within our lives, from an early age. Something beckons us forward, tells us that what we experience isn't all there is to life, that what happens to us now--how we grow older; how we experience the joys and pains of life; how we leave a legacy--is only a precursor to what happens to us later. Innately, we know that here on earth, in our mortal, physical bodies, we are not truly at home. Something within us groans and longs for our more perfect home.
This is why Paul teaches us "that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands" (2 Cor. 5:1). He's referring to death and what happens to us, not in our mortal, physical bodies but in our immortal, spiritual bodies. If we die, he says, or if we know that death is imminent, we also know that death is not the end. Death is not all there is. There is something more. There is a building from God. The "eternal house" Paul mentions is not a dwelling in heaven; it is the indestructible spiritual body God will give us when we go home to live with him. The superiority of this "house" is made clear by Paul's contrast to our physical bodies as a mere "tent."
For Christians, we believe it is God himself who places this knowledge within us. God's intent is for all--Christian and non-Christian alike--to have their mortality swallowed up by real life (2 Cor. 5:4). Real life, for Paul, is the eternal, spiritual life we share with God when he gives us our eternal house. We yearn for this eternal house. We want more; we know there is more. God teaches us there is more than what we experience now; that our deepest yearnings for something better are true. Paul says, "The one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Cor. 5:5). We know that God is faithful; we know that God has planted this hope within us because he has given us his Spirit. It's his Spirit within us--the same Spirit that serves as a deposit on our eternal house--that calls us closer to God.
It's this spiritual reality that our dear sister knew so well. She exemplified this attitude in her life. She knew 2 Corinthians 4:16 well--that "outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day"--and it caused her to live 2 Cor. 4:18 well--to "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." While this world was her home and she had many good memories and experiences in it, she knew it was only temporary. She was called to a higher home where she would turn in the tent of her temporary dwelling here for a house that would stand forever on the shores with her Father. One of my best memories of our sister was a common one. When we'd visit, she would often mention that she didn't know why God was keeping her around. We'd talk about that, and we'd offer different reasons why God was keeping her around, but it was that very question itself that showed that she knew something greater was in store for her. She knew that God was not finished with her, and that God would keep his promise to give her an eternal home.
so we live in hope of "home" (2 Cor. 4:16-5:5)
This is why we live in hope. Our own bodies and the world around us teaches us that what we see is temporary. So, like our dear sister, we hope in what is unseen. In the bible, hope is not a wishy-washy word in the sense we commonly use it today. We say, "I hope the weather is nice this weekend," or, "I hope we can get together soon," and we mean this in a wishful-thinking way. In the bible, "hope" is concrete. It is a noun. It is something specific that we grasp. In the bible, hope is the promise of God that we will live with him forever, that we will be resurrected and given permanent, immortal, spiritual bodies--eternal houses. We believe this by faith, not by sight, because what we see around us encourages us to think differently. But our sister knew better--she lived by faith--and through her example we learn to trust what is unseen, to trust God, the giver of hope, who gives us a promise of eternal life, a resurrected body, and fellowship with him (4:14).
with confidence and faith that please the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-10).
So we live by faith. Our sight is eternal, focused on God who is the giver of all good things in life. We live in confidence; by faith, not sight, trusting God our Father; and aiming to please him.
Our sister knew 2 Corinthians 5:10 well--that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" to be judged for our earthly actions--and it caused her to live 2 Cor. 5:9 well--that we "make it our goal to please him."
Pleasing Jesus is, of course, the goal of our lives. It was the goal of our sister's life. In Hebrews 12, we learn that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. These witnesses are the faithful who have gone on before us, who have attained the reward God held out for them. These witnesses cheer us on as we remember their lives of faith. Their examples help to keep us faithful in following Jesus. We pass through life, moving towards Jesus, outgrowing our earthly tent and looking ahead to our eternal home, being surrounded by this great group of witnesses who have gone on ahead of us. We yearn for something better; they experience it. We long for home; they are home.
One of our sister's favorite things to talk about whenever anyone visited her was why God continued to keep her around for so long. She believed she had outlived her usefulness. We knew better. We knew that she continued to be a source of encouragement to many, and that God was very proud of her for doing so. Yet, her question also demonstrated the true desire of her heart--she longed to be rid of her earthly tent to receive the promised, eternal house from God. Now, she has finally received her heart's desire--she has gone ahead of us, preceded us, to wait for us to join her and God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in our true and permanent dwelling with God. She's home.
In this introduction, I outline Acts and develop six major themes that are in Acts.
Below, download a PDF of Introduction to Acts or read the document in this post.
Download an MP3 of Reminders to Repent.
Repentance is one of those elusive topics we consider from time to time. Although we often view repentance as a feeling, Jesus teaches us that repentance is about choosing him and drawing closer to him. In this sermon, learn 5 different ways of understanding repentance and be drawn closer to God as a result.
What are your thoughts about repentance? Please leave them in the comments.
This is a continuation of my series about biblical church leadership. Read the most recent article, What is Oversight?, and follow the links to read the rest of the series.
In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory Boyd points out that the kingdoms of this world are built on power and control and that wherever a group of person exercises power over another, there the kingdom of the world is in operation.
[Caveat: He does not consider the exercise of power over others to be wrong at all times. Neither do I. But the danger exists for abuse.]
The kingdom of this world operates "from above," from a position of power and control over others. Jesus, in contrast, represents the kingdom of God, and operates "from below," in service.
Biblical leaders must be continually aware of the ways in which power can take hold in our ministries and lives. Do we look down on people? Do we press for "our way" in church services? Do we assume we know better than others? Do we teach and expect respect and obedience to us as leaders?
Or do we model a better way? a kingdom way?
Jesus repeatedly taught against power from above. In Mark 8-10, he corrected his disciples three times because they overreached for power and control. In one case, pride was in the way of true, genuine service (Mark 8:31-38). In another, they were arguing among themselves about which one had the highest degree of power with Jesus, who influenced him the most (Mark 9:30-37). On the third occasion, two of them bartered with Jesus for what they believed were the highest positions of honor with him; this later led to an argument among the disciples (Mark 10:35-45).
Jesus countered these power-grabs by reminding them that the path to greatness is a path that will never be understood that way by the world. It requires us to serve, to become last if we want to be first.
Biblical leaders will do well to continually remind ourselves to serve others, to operate "from below" them, rather than from above. True leadership follows first, and leads as others follow us in our imitation of Jesus.
What are your thoughts about this?
From Psalms 73 and 77. What are your thoughts?
It's common to look around us and be angry about how other people live wrong seem to succeed in life. But to view them this way is not to see them through the eyes of faith.
How important is prayer to working through trials? How persistent do we need to be in prayer? Why pray?
My recent book review of Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save got me thinking about a past bible study on giving. Below is a bible study I wrote on giving that includes discussion on the theology of giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9, how to give (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and what the church does with the money it is given (various scriptures).
What are your thoughts?
From Psalms 71 and 72
1. How connected is God with or to our troubles? (71:20)
2. Will he always renew us?
For which acts does the writer praise the king and ask for God's blessing upon the king? (72:12-14)
You are immoral if you buy luxury and leisure items for yourself because that money could have saved lives and combated global, absolute poverty.
This is the logical extension of Peter Singer's recent book, The Life You Can Save (sub-titled, "Acting Now to End World Poverty"). Building on principles of moral philosophy, Singer begins by discussing a moral problem: If you are walking to an appointment and see a child drowning in a pool, are you morally obligated to help that child? The obvious answer is "yes," regardless of the time spent or the damage to our clothing that may result. Singer suggests that we are, then, morally obligated to aid other children around the world if we are able to.
To argue this more forcefully, he demonstrates a "logical argument from plausible premises."
First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.
Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.
Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.
Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong. (pgs. 15-16)
Singer seeks to establish that each of us is under a moral obligation to help others as much as we can without sacrificing anything nearly as important. This means, unless we are withholding food, shelter, or care from our family members, we ought to give. The logical extension of this is that most, if not all, luxury and leisure activities and things must be seen as immoral pursuits that cause us to overlook our moral obligation to others.
As an example, Singer writes, "To buy good stereo equipment in order to further my worthwhile goal, or life-enhancing experience, of listening to music is to place more value on these enhancements to my life than on whether others live or die" (p. 149).
The book is filled in by discussions of aid, types of aid that may be given, and how to arrive at an appropriate amount to give. While advocating much more, Singer recognizes it is not realistic to expect people to give as much as he desires them to. Even he himself does not achieve that much giving.
He draws from the principle of fairness to suggest a modest goal. We can all chip in, and if we do our fair share, we will not become disgusted by those who are not doing their fair share. The alternative is to push people to give a lot, only to become frustrated when they see others not doing their part. He suggests that most of us can start at 5% of our annual income. (He does think the rich can and should give much more than 5%.)
I found this to be a fascinating book that caused me to really think through my giving and my lifestyle. In fact, I'm still thinking about it. I enjoyed the argument from moral philosophy and found him to go much deeper with his thinking than many Christian writers do. I recommend the book for anyone interested in the problems of poverty, service, and giving.
This blog is for articles and book reviews. I post my sermons at my Sermons page, where you can listen to sermons online or download them in MP3 format.
Although I work for the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan, this blog represents my own thoughts and does not necessarily correspond to the views and workings of the Otisville Church of Christ.
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